Saturday, February 10, 2018

Nosferatu Vinyl by Waxwork records review

The first time I've appreciated cinematography (i.e. movies) as an art was when I watched an expert commentary for the 1922 Nosferatu on DVD. All the bits and images clicked in beautifully leaving me with a lasting impression and wanting for more. Fortunately, the entertainment industry has not disappointed in this respect and some Nosferatu's characteristics resurface from time to time. One of the most comprehensive is Kinski's 1970s remake which explored some possibilities. One of those is the addition of an inherent soundtrack by Popol Vuh.

By itself that music is both atmospheric and evocative and can stand on its own. When I gave it a few listens on spotify I knew that this music had to sound amazing on vinyl. It was a fortunate circumstance that not only the music existed for the format but that a new release from Waxwork records was available.

As with most of Waxwork's releases this one is pure eye candy. The new artwork is superb and presented in a gatefold fashion. There's an insert by the artist in which she explains her vision for the project. On the other side of this insert is the cover art in just a tad a smaller format than the cover. Presumably, and you can frame this instead of the whole album cover. The variant I received was that white marbled one which is absolutely the most beautiful vinyl I have set my eyes on. Keep in mind that my whole experience up until very recently have been my father's LPs which are uniformly black and some solid-colored ones here and there. The two vinyls on which the music is divided really look like marble. The inner sleeves are of black paper which is also a first for me. I'm sure that you metalheads have been getting this kind of merchandise for years now, but it's really something when you experience it for the first time. The center labels are also black with the track listings on one side and bat illustrations on the other. There's a bit of torn label near the punch holes that while undeserving, don't distract much.
Hype sticker

The pressing themselves for each LP are another matter. For a brand-new record is noticeably noisy on the first two sides with various clicks and hiss. These are all of small magnitude and certainly are not worrisome but they make you wonder about quality assurance. Due to the nature of the subject matter the clicks might even add some "character" to the output, but one would have expected less of them in this day and age. The last two sides sounded uniformly fine.

The only other drawback with this release is the difficulty of getting the inner sleeves into the outer as they do not seem to want to slide in easily and there is some risk of mangling that the thinner inner sleeve or damaging the insert. The album as a whole fits well in the the Groove Vinyl oversized plastic covers.

At the time of this writing it is out of stock but if you can get hold of it, I think it will be a great addition to your collection even more if you are a soundtrack aficionado. I will still be looking forward to Waxwork's future releases and hope that they finally iron out the kinks in the pressing process.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Babadook as a metaphor for sickness

A couple of Sundays ago I went for confession with a bit of a secondary motive. For some time now, my leg has been hurting and a few other complaints began to pile on. Since I would have the father all by myself in the confessional, I thought it would not be inappropriate to ask for his prayers when the confession was over. I did so and he did agree to add me to his prayers after ascertaining the nature of my illness, that it wasn't anything life-threatening or anything. He also gave me a bit of advice: do not clash with your illness, rather make it your friend.

Later, after some reflection I saw that this mirrors the final state of affairs in the Babadook. You may not be able to get rid of it, but you can get into some sort of understanding.

In horror movies, the last surviving would-be victim, manages to fight off the menacing evil power, at least for a time, but seldom, as far as I can recall, does she stop to confront it in equal terms. In the Babadook, the Amelia does so and surprisingly she isn't snuffed out as one would expect, but both accept the new state of affairs. She still doesn't like him, but that doesn't mean they can be partners.

In Catholicism there is such a thing as redemption by suffering where one chips in, however feebly or modestly, with redemption by offering one's suffering, taking one's cross, and offering it to God. In this way, I've come to the conclusion that one indeed can become friends with one's sickness. As with the Babadook, one doesn't have to like it, but if I way out is not forthcoming, not only does one do not strengthen it by fighting it (being anxious about it), but one can reap otherworldly benefits by its acceptance. Amelia at the end of the movie intimates to Samuel that in due time he would get to see what's in the basement. Likewise for us.

The fit isn't perfect but both sickness and Babadook touch so many common points that I thought to flag them.

If you would like to know more about redemption by suffering check out episode 11  (2/18/05) of the podcast Ignition on your favorite podcast catcher.
(I use Podcast Addict)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Poor man's voice web browsing for Windows

Now, if you read my post on voice recognition for your Linux virtual machine, there's no reason why you cannot take the same elements, sans the virtual machine, and have your own custom voice-recognition command center facility in native Windows.

Microsoft's own speech recognition is already there, free, and its "show numbers" feature surpasses anything that Dragon NaturallySpeaking has to offer (as far as I'm aware of; I'm still on version 11). However, for whatever reason, you may one day want to browse the web, or do whatever else, using your own commands. Glovepie can leverage the OS' speech module. Why not avail yourself of free tools? My offered solution might work for you.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Studying Chess Made Easy by Soltis book review

Thus, whatever phase of things human and divine you have apprehended, you will be wearied by the vast number of things to be answered and things to be learned. And in order that these manifold and mighty subjects may have free entertainment in your soul, you must remove therefrom all superfluous things.
Seneca, Letter to Lucilius 88

Of the Chess Life columns I used to read one of my least liked was that of GM Andrew Soltis. Probably because back then it was one of the few columns written in descriptive notation or something.  However, over the last few years I've found that he has brought out some pretty useful books to the market and now in FAN. Not being made of stone, I have bought some of these and have been quite pleased with them, the latest being Studying Chess Made Easy.

Its message in a nutshell: There must be a way to sort out all the chess material.
The problem is of course, too much of it, and too little time. To that effect, Soltis' tries to channel the reader's efforts to the areas were they'll count the most.

The title is a bit misleading, a more appropriate one would've been "Build your own study regime". Even he doesn't explicitly say so, Soltis gives pieces of a puzzle that can be rearranged in a myriad of ways according to the reader's current necessities and time constraints. Accordingly, the reader must provide her own input and figure out by herself what to tackle at any given time. Once, solved the how to, is the meat of the book.

For each phase of the game he presents the problems to study and gives advice on how to get the most the player's study time in improvement. He illustrates most points with  game fragments (that break the flow of the argument IMO). The "easy" part which the title alludes to is the less material one has to go through. However, though good, some of his recommended improvement exercises demand dedication from the student.

The software front might be the weakest area of the book. Soltis does give some advice on how to make better use of it, but doesn't go deep into it (then again, maybe it also another "unnecessary") for improvement. There is also no how to go over your games.

Now, Soltis writes from the point of view of an insider. From his bibliography one can gather he is well acquainted with the Soviet teaching methods and has along career as a writer. However , there's no explicit guarantee that what he recommends will work. No study backs what he says, meaning one is putting his faith on his words alone. There have been studies made by outsiders here and there on learning and chess, but none of their results are incorporated here. So one has to take this in account and perhaps adapt accordingly.

Also, it is not a one stop shop. Other books and material will have to be read and games to be played, but all according to an overarching approach. Might not be the ultimate solution, but as it goes, looks close and since it is readily available, why not?

Recommended for the ambitious 1400 elo and up to master.

Check out another Soltis review here

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows movie review

Experience often tells us that sequels are always inferior to the originals. The Blair Witch: The Book of Shadows is often highlighted as evidence and as such it is generally despised; ratings at the IMDB and other like sites readily reflect that.

However, I don't share those beliefs. I liked it when it first came out and re-watching it the other day has confirmed my conviction that, as Jeff would put it, the naysayers only say nay.

There are two things here that work against BoS: its fundamental different approach to the telling of the story and that it doesn't give any more info on what happened to Heather's group. On the first front, the radical shift places this second installment away from the first movie, which apparently was enough of a turn-off for many. The second reason is even more insidious as we bought our tickets in search for answers, but we ended up more confused than before.

However, once we accept that the mysteries will not be solved this time around and that this movie is not an extension of the first, we end up with an acceptable fun movie that, despite the factors against it, it is very respectful to the mythology set in the original. Watching it, thus, with fresh eyes there are many, many things to like.

I'll leave you with just two things to look for for the next time you watch it. The first one is the characters. Of the trilogy, the ones from The Book of Shadows are the ones that are given the most depth on the are way more interesting than even the ones from Blair Witch (2016). Despite the messing up by the producing company, we get a good share from what the director originally intended. Josh and Kim, Kim and Josh (and to some extent Erica) make this movie. The second reason to watch is the secret message Easter egg hunt named "The Secret of Esrever". There is a secret message interspersed throughout the movie and the hints are found in the DVD extras. Most of them are really, really hard, but if you are up to the challenge, you'll have lots of fun. Oh, lest I forget, there's even a bigger bonus and that's The Shadow of the Blair Witch mockumentary that ties in to this movie. I think it can be found on your regular video sites along with the Burkittsville Seven which is also a must-watch (don't know about their copyright status though). Both are a very meaty addition to the mythology that just can't be missed.

On the whole, BOS has been widely lambasted, but If this movie had come out without any previous movie to compare it to, it would have been way more successful in its appreciation.

Worth a watch this Halloween

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Reverse book lookup

No practice excels that of browsing along a library shelf containing books on the subject that has awakened your interest, and sampling them.

Henry Hazlitt

It might not be an earth-shattering revelation, but It may prove useful someday.

Swimmingpool; taken by Benjamin Miller; source: freestockphotos.bizSometimes you have a book in your hands that you like so much, that you'd like to find more on the same topic. There's a way to do just that in your local library. You can take a look at the copyright page on the book, grab the Library of Congress classification, and use that to walk to the proper aisle and shelf and look around. Even if they don't have the very same tome you are sourcing on, the library surely has something on your topic near that area. If the source book is not recent enough to have the classification, you can still get it by running a query on it through the Library of Congress online catalog at

Here is an example of an interesting section that I stumbled upon recently. It begins with

  • No control
    • BF Skinner's Beyond Dignity And Freedom @ BF 621 S456 . You know him as the figurehead of operant conditioning branch of the behaviorist school of psychology. I find it nice that his initials match the classification number.
  • Self-controlled behavior
    • La Maîtrise de soi  by Chauchard . BF 632 C43
    • Le Pouvoir De La Volonté Sur Soi-même, Sur Les Autres, Sur Le Destin . BF 632 J33
    • Self-control :power to the person by Mahoney BF 632 M22
  • Control by others
    • Ulrich's  Control of Human Behavior. Found ten copies.  BF 632.5 U4
    • Brainwashing by Hunter- Accounts from the Korean war and elsewhere. Interesting chapter on how to resist it.  BF 633 H8
    • Thought reform and the psychology of totalism ;a study of brainwashing in China by Lifton. BF 633 L53

  • Control with help of others; counseling, interviewing
    • Applied psychology by Crane BF 636 C73
    • Peale's Power of positive Thinking BF 636 P37

  • Control of others; negotiation & salemanship BF637 and on

  • Getting to Yes By Fisher Ury BF 637.N4 F57.1991 .  A classic of negotiation. Ury's solo work Getting Past No, is even better.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Ear Band-It review

Come to think of it, I believe that in all my years swimming in different pools, I have never caught an ear infection. However, when I recently tried the proper crawl posture with all the head turnings, I began getting water up my ears quite frequently.

Now, this is not a nice sensation and I could yet get an infection. To prevent that, I tried the progressive silicone earplugs which managed to keep most of the water out, but left my right ear hurting for the rest of the day and frankly worries me pushing it too much in one day. I also tried the silicone moldable putty earplugs which I bought by accident. On my first try, these only worked for a few yards before letting the water in with the even greater negative of keeping it in by not allowing proper drainage. I then came up with the idea of wrapping something around my ears to keep the water out and found that the ear band-it folks had already something on the market.

As such, the band is of a very simple design and stays put with Velcro. I couldn't find a black adult one, so I went for the purple to match my yellow swimming cap. It has a nice, tight fit and doesn't seem to loosen while swimming.

However, by itself it won't keep water out, nor is supposed to. It is intended as another layer of protection for the ear. The most benefit you can get by using it solo is altogether stopping the sudden inrushes of water that are bound to happen with all the movement. Water will still seep in and mostly get lodged in there.

Nevertheless by combining the moldable earplugs with the strap I found on the first 2 to 3 times that I could get most of the water out most of the time. A few drops might get in after twenty minutes or so, but didn't feel as uncomfortable as with the other approaches. However, after this initial success I found that I could not re-create the sealing fit and water began trickling in once again.

Compounded to that was wrapping the goggles'strap around both the swimming cap and the band. Attempting to do this was a frustrating experience and a lengthy one. Putting on the goggles before the strap could be an alternative, but that didn't work for me either. Frequently I had to fit and refit the goggle eyepieces before getting a proper seal. As for the putty, one has to resist the temptation of unplugging and re-plugging the silicone because one is less likely of getting a tight seal than when applying dry. It appears that the critical part is the flattening of the silicone towards the edges. I'm fully open that I might be the one to blame, but I am not getting consistent results.

In the end I feel that the progressive earplugs solo are the best approach if you find they don't hurt. Otherwise,  I would recommend this band paired with the putty but with flat enthusiasm. For myself, I decided to switch back to my no-headturns snorkel swimming. The inconveniences of the band and those of the other solutions make me risk it than deal with the hassle. Use your better judgement.

Surprising, but I cannot give it more